Students Vania Pierre and Maryam Ali, left, and center coordinator Soni Reese at the new Language Learning Center at Southern Maine Community College. Drew Johnson, The Forecaster

The new Lisa Gorman Language Learning Center is creating “a longer-term system of support” for New Mainers enrolled at Southern Maine Community College, its coordinator says.

Located at the school’s South Portland campus, the learning center provides one-on-one tutoring to build upon SMCC’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program, which has enrolled more than 1,500 students in the past five years.

“What happens with our English Language Learners, they’re coming into their degree programs, but some of them still don’t have the foundational skills in the language to be able to handle those courses successfully,” said coordinator Soni Reese, chairperson of college’s Department of Developmental English and Global Languages.

While some students may be able to hold a conversation in English, she said, they may need help writing or reading it. Others may write and read well in English, but need help when it comes to speaking the language.  The center will work with students who may have developed English skills but need help in their fields of study.

Vania Pierre, an English Language Learner in SMCC’s nursing program, appreciates the one-on-one time with her tutor.

“With my classes sometimes, that’s where I really need help,” Pierre said, adding that tutors are able to aid her in understanding and answering questions in her higher-level classes.

“As an immigrant, I’d say its really important for us to have this type of program to help us improve our communication, our learning, and this is really nice for us to have that,” she said.

Student Maryam Ali said she feels at ease with the tutors.

“I feel comfortable with them. When I need help, when I ask a question, they are nice to all students,” Ali said.  “I love it.””

Reese said that the center has roughly five active tutors and is recruiting more. About 20 students are using the learning center regularly, and she expects additional participation in the near future.

While both Ali and Pierre meet with their tutors twice per week, Reese stated that some students will come to the learning center on an as-needed basis.

“We have some students who call up and say ‘I have an assignment that’s due next week and I need help with it,'” she said. “To be able to come in here and have that one-on-one support, they really appreciate it.”

The center is funded by a grant from the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges in honor of Lisa Gorman. Gorman, a founding member and foundation vice chairperson and a supporter of SMCC’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program.

The grant allowed SMCC to buy specialized computer software to add another resource for English Language Learners. The software provides “contextualized language training,” Reese said, by incorporating materials from course work into the language development lessons.

“Some of these students, new Mainers who come here, they come from their home countries where they’ve trained as doctors or nurses or computer scientists,” said Reese. “They can’t really pursue their careers because they can’t transfer those qualifications automatically, and in addition to that, they have the language barrier.”

The learning center could benefit other SMCC initiatives, such as workforce training and educational opportunities for immigrants, Reese said.

“To be able to give them that leg-up and to help them benefit from these training opportunities, because they’re interest in going into these programs, is really important,” she said.

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